“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free,” the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said.
Many children in low- and middle-income countries around the world are not able to read with understanding or do basic mathematics, even after four years of primary school. These children are at risk of never being free.
In my own country, Sierra Leone, a 2021 study published by UNICEF/GPE/MBSSE reported that “the majority of learners in grades 2 and 4 are not able to comprehend the text they read.”
Regarding numeracy, the study revealed that only 33% of students can do two-digit additions and only 23% can do two-digit subtractions.
This foundational learning crisis has many causes, but among them is the fact that many children begin school without having benefited from any preprimary education. This is particularly the case for girls and marginalized children, whom we target through our Policy on Radical Inclusion in Schools.
But in addition, it is increasingly clear that the content of our syllabi and textbooks did not facilitate teaching at the right level or the application of ‘science of reading’ principles.
Teachers in these crucial foundational years did not necessarily teach with the specific goal of achieving critical learning outcomes and were not trained to do so.